MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Azkals must beat Bangladesh Friday if they hope to advance to the main draw of the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup next year.
To survive, the Filipinos will have to go through the proverbial eye of the needle since they will be battling a dangerous Bangladesh side in their last group qualifying match at the Aung San Stadium in Rangoon, Myanmar.
Although ranked way below the Azkals in the FIFA world standings, Bangladesh showed a glimpse of its potential when it stunned host Myanmar, 2-0, on Wednesday night.
Against Myanmar, the Azkals could only manage a 1-1 draw last Monday.
The Azkals are ranked 151 while Bangladesh 174th.
Compounding the Azkals’ woes will be the absence of midfielder Simon Greatwich.
The 22-year-old Filipino-British, who earned his first yellow card on Monday, will sit out Friday’s game after being slapped with a second yellow for diving in the penalty area of the Palestinians, who held the Azkals to a scoreless draw the other night.
Game time is 5 p.m. (Manila time) and the Azkals can’t afford to lose or even settle for another draw because that will mean the end of their campaign.
A victory, however, assures them one of the two slots at stake in the tournament’s finals next year.
Held to a draw twice, the Azkals are currently at third spot in Group A with two points behind Bangladesh (three points) and Palestine (four points), which have the best chance of advancing. Myanmar is at the cellar with a point.
The PH-Bangladesh tiff will be held simultaneously with the closing Myanmar-Palestine clash in a different venue to avoid manipulation of the results.
A victory over Bangladesh will give the Azkals five points and a spot to the next round regardless of the outcome of the other match.
But if the Azkals lose or settle for a draw, they will be eliminated.
Midfielder Chieffy Caligdong and newcomer Yannick Tuason showed flashes of offensive and defensive brilliance, but it proved not enough to topple the tall Palestinians on Friday.
“I’m satisfied with the result,” Azkals German coach Hans Michael Weiss was quoted as saying. “I have seen a very strong Palestine team that we really had to endure. It was not an easy match.”
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